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LP business owner battles leukemia
Jan. 7, 2013

Benefit for Don Artmann Saturday, with music by DiamondBack

By Starrla Cray
Staff Writer

Since leukemia entered his life in July 2011, Don Artmann of Big Don’s Carthedral in Lester Prairie has made some tough adjustments.

“I was used to working 12-hour days at my repair shop,” Don said. “Now, I need to sit down after the littlest task, because I’m wiped out.”

A benefit to help Don’s family with medical expenses will take place Saturday, Jan. 12 from 4 p.m. to midnight at Neaton’s Shed, 3480 County Rd. 21 in Watertown (across from the Hollywood Sports Complex).

The cost of $15 per person includes a ham dinner, silent auction, two hours of free beer, and live music by DiamondBack. A 2013 Polaris 120 youth snowmobile will also be raffled off.

For more information, or to donate to the silent auction, contact Dawn at (612) 644-0152 or Barb at (320) 455-2030.

Feeling weak
Don’s symptoms began about two years ago, but at the time, he hadn’t considered the possibility of cancer.

“I didn’t have as much energy as normal, and I felt weak when I got out of bed,” he recalled. “I had gained some weight, and thought maybe I should go on a diet.”

Don also noticed swelling in his lymph nodes, and assumed he had a cold.

Since he wasn’t getting better on his own, he made an appointment at the clinic in Lester Prairie. He suspected strep throat, but was instead told his white blood cell count was at 80,000.

“It’s supposed to be 4,500 to 10,000, so we knew something was wrong at that point,” Don said.

Two days later, tests came back as chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.

The diagnosis surprised Don, his wife, Kari, and their children, Jessica (18), and Josh (21).

“People with CLL are usually in their 60s and 70s, not in their 40s,” Kari said.

Chemo resistance
Don began chemotherapy right after his diagnosis, but after several sessions, it was discovered that Don is “chemo resistant.”

“I have a malformed gene, so even if they killed all the cancer cells, it would come back,” Don explained. “The only real cure would be a stem cell transplant.”

The process for finding a stem cell donor started with Don’s two brothers, Bob and Ken. Neither of them were a DNA match, so help was sought from Be The Match Registry (a donor registry operated by the National Marrow Donor Program).

“After about one week, they found two suitable umbilical cords that would match Donny,” Kari noted. “So, basically, Be The Match saved his life.”

Pregnant women who would like to donate umbilical cord blood to Be The Match can find more information at www.marrow.org.

A stem cell cure
Before being admitted for a stem cell transplant, Don went through extensive testing to ensure his body would be healthy enough to handle the procedure.

He then had five days of chemo in a row, with a dosage five times stronger than in the past. On the sixth day, Don underwent radiation to kill any remaining cancer cells.

After the transplant, Don spent about a month in the hospital, where his days were filled with blood tests, IVs, and lots of rest.

Now that he’s home, Don has started physical therapy, and will have bone marrow biopsies every three months. He also takes about 40 pills a day, including anti-rejection drugs.

Doctors have told Don it will be at least a year before he’ll start to feel “normal” again. The cancer will be considered in remission after two years, and cured after seven. However, Don said there are no guarantees he’ll be cancer-free for good.

“At any time, it could switch,” he said.

Don greatly appreciates the support he’s received from friends, family, employees, and customers since his leukemia diagnosis.

“I’ve gotten cards, letters, and phone calls,” he said. “We’ve even had some people drop off meals.”

Don is extremely susceptible to illness, but he plans to attend his benefit Saturday wearing a mask for protection.

“I’d like to see everyone, and thank them,” he said.

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